16 minutes and as many suplexes were all it took for Brock Lesnar to become a singular entity unlike anything else WWE had seen in years.
Lesnar’s dismantling of John Cena for the WWE title at the 2014 SummerSlam displayed sudden and violent disregard for a near-decade’s worth of stagnancy under the former champion’s steady hand. Reaching back from that moment to his first WWE title win at Wrestlemania 21 — just a year removed from Lesnar’s infamous farewell match with Bill Goldberg – Cena title wins and defenses were uniformly patterned after a well-used formula that had, in the eyes of many, grown incredibly stagnant.
Like Cena himself, Lesnar took that aura roughly by the waist and dispatched it with suplex after suplex after suplex. There was no hope for a valiant comeback. There was nothing uncertain about the method of victory. There was only the company’s most bankable –and, consequently, most protected — superstar of the decade being decimated as if he were a jorts-wearing Mulkey brother.
here could be no doubt in that moment that Cena was not only not in Lesnar’s league, but that he was not even playing the same game.
Lesnar’s victory by virtue of sheer brute force belied everything that matches in WWE had come to be, hewing far closer to legitimate professional fight in execution. By defeating Cena seemingly without regard for the pre-existing rules, Lesnar instantaneously differentiated himself from the homogenous mold that defined the entirety of WWE’s roster and became something completely apart from it.
Lesnar’s mythological status had already been etched in stone four months earlier when he ended The Undertaker’s 21-match Wrestlemania win streak. Becoming the man to end arguably the most prolific winning streak in the history of wrestling made him unique beyond compare, guaranteeing his permanent place in the pantheon of WWE history.
But that unprecedented and unrepeatable moment felt more as if it were a moment for the ages than one for the present.
For all of the value and reverence that the streak had baked into it, breaking it had little impact on the immediate goings on in the WWE Universe. Paul Heyman cut a scintillating promo the next night on Raw that was arguably miles better than the match that had taken place, but with Lesnar retreating to the wilderness and Undertaker existing only as a once-a-year attraction, the end of the streak felt more like a single moment parallel to WWE continuity than one that ever intersected with it.
But when Lesnar squashed Cena at Summerslam, it affirmed that he was to become the focal point of the product; its unstoppable monster. It was a definite, loud, and brutal statement that not even the company’s biggest money-maker could compare with him, and one that confirmed the decision to have Lesnar break The Streak by suggesting a long-term impact on the product’s direction.
Defeating Undertaker made Lesnar an existential terror, but demolishing Cena made him as immediate a threat as a shark barreling down on a floundering swimmer bleeding in the surf.
The only logical motive behind having Lesnar take away the single most revered thing in the company — even more profoundly important than the championship he had captured from Cena — was to use it as a platform from which he could be built into a behemoth of epic proportions. By ending the streak, Lesnar would more or less absorb the weight it had carried, making his next clean loss a potentially-star-making accomplishment of comparable measure.
He had also regained any heat that may have been winnowed away in the two years since his return, be it from losing his first match back to Cena at Extreme Rules or to Triple H at Wrestlemania 29 with the presumed idea being that it would be transferred to Roman Reigns on his ascent to the status of the company’s top draw.
But that transference never came to be, and two years removed from his the Cena annihilation, Lesnar seems to have reverted from focal point to sideshow attraction. All the evidence one needs to arrive at this conclusion can be gleaned from the fallout stemming from his match with Randy Orton at this year’s SummerSlam, which not only mirrored the Cena match in terms of execution, but somehow managed to make an even more definitive statement about Lesnar’s superiority compared to the rest of the roster.
Four weeks removed from leaving Orton lying in a pool of his own blood, there has been little mention of Lesnar on either Raw or Smackdown. The most sustained effort to remind the audience that Lesnar is still a looming danger was a completely baffling segment involving Heyman and Stephanie McMahon that did nothing to promulgate the message that Lesnar is a violent man who should strike fear in every member of the roster as much as it existed to remind everyone how great the McMahons are.
Otherwise, the man who brutalized one of Smackdown’s top babyfaces and is still technically owed his linear championship rematch may as well have been blinked out of existence at the stroke of midnight on August 22. Even the return match between Orton and Lesnar, which could have been used to pop interest in the WWE Network for Clash of Champions or even feebly trotted out against the first few weeks of Monday Night Football, was frittered away on a house show in Chicago and may as well have never happened in continuity.
Lesnar remains a terror insofar that he could reemerge at any moment, but it has become increasingly clear that when he does, he is not going to be terribly concerned with breaking out of the convention he has created for himself. The creation of the term “Suplex City” and WWE’s induction of it into its ever-increasing pantheon of buzzterms ostensibly guaranteed that every Lesnar match going forward from Wrestlemania 31 would be concerned with the number of suplexes he could deliver.
Consequently, it’s arguable that Lesnar’s style has become every bit as tedious and rigid as the formula he smashed two years ago, and that his matches are every bit as patterned and predictable as anyone else’s.
There is no clearer evidence of this than his match with Dean Ambrose at Wrestlemania 32, which did nothing on any level to stand out on a card where it could have very well stolen the show. Ambrose would later tell Steve Austin that blame for its underperformance could be laid squarely on his input being “met with laziness” from Lesnar who “didn’t want to do anything [artistically].”
Despite a build that focused on the unpredictability of Ambrose and his capacity for violence, it was very much another instance of Lesnar dominating with suplex after suplex after suplex and winning without leaving so much as a trace of doubt as to whether Dean ever had a chance.
Lesnar’s unwillingness to give very much was evident at SummerSlam as well where his match against Orton would likely have been labeled another disappointment were it not for the improbably gory finish. It is clear enough that Brock does not care about how he is perceived by anyone, but it is undeniable that the box created by “Suplex City” has eaten away to some degree at Lesnar’s must-see appeal. The more that Lesnar simply dominates his opponents, the more likely the returns are to diminish.
Perhaps the thing separating his matches with Ambrose and Orton from his amazing Royal Rumble 2015 match with Seth Rollins and Cena or his entertaining bout against Reigns at Wrestlemania 31 is vulnerability. What made Undertaker’s streak so compelling in the years prior to it being broken was the constant threat of danger. Whether it was a veteran like Triple H or Shawn Michaels or a star on the rise like Batista or CM Punk, Undertaker had a way of making every opponent appear to be on his level at least long enough to draw the crowd into the story.
Lesnar, meanwhile, barely shows so much as a hairline crack in the armor. Apart from an RKO here or a chairshot there, Lesnar has not been made to look threatened by anything since his Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker, even going so far as to cut Braun Strowman down to size during this year’s Royal Rumble even while he was being billed as a monster who could not be taken off of his feet.
Whether this lack of vulnerability is his decision or Vince McMahon’s or Heyman’s is not particularly important, but it is likely to continue the trend of Lesnar’s matches feeling less like something that fans cannot miss.
Still, Lesnar’s style remains decidely unlike anyone else in WWE, whether it is approaching a well-worn formula or not. It may no longer feel new or fresh or exciting, but it is still the closest to reality that WWE has.
Perhaps it is all part of some master plan. If Lesnar continues to blithely dismantle perceived top-level stars with an apathy fitting the manner in which one would swat a fly, and if he eventually indeed destroys beloved babyface Shane McMahon, it is possible that the tides will turn against him and he will be subject to the same criticisms that seem to inevitably befall professional wrestlers like Cena who build success upon formula.
And at the precise moment where the fans seem to have had enough of Lesnar not giving an inch to his opponent, when they can’t help but call Lesnar boring or trite, he will be beaten cleanly and convincingly by Reigns in his third or fourth attempted culmination. And what is old will become new once again.